Reviews by Audio-In


Previously known as Hddad70
Aful Performer 8 - Priced to make great performance attainable.
Pros: Excellent detail for the price
Smooth upper midrange and airy treble
Excellent build and design
Cons: Imaging could be more focused.
No balanced option

Aful Performer 8
The Performer 8 is Aful’s latest hybrid IEM offering and is the big brother to the very popular Performer 5. Of course, it's always exciting to try new stuff but admittedly, my anticipation was slightly intensified given the Performer 5’s success. If you’ve seen my review of the Performer 5, you’ll know that it’s currently one of my top picks for the $200 price bracket. What makes things even more interesting is that Aful is a new company, and the Performer 5 was their very first release. Given the intense competition within the “under $500'' market, the heightened degree of anticipation for the release of the Performer 8 is understandable.

The Performer 8 is priced at $369 and has a hybrid driver configuration consisting of 1 dynamic and 7 balanced armature drivers. And like the Performer 5 the drivers are housed in a 3D printed shell but according to Afuls website, it's not your typical 3D printing technology. Instead, this method is typically used in the medical field and is supposed to be much more precise compared to the traditional method. Those claims seem very reasonable as the build quality and design does seem to be a step up from most other IEMs at this price point. The included 2 pin cable is also very good at this price, however, it only comes in a 3.5 mm option.

In terms of the build and its internal acoustic structure, they took a similar approach as with the performer 5. However, the Performer 8 takes it a step further and apparently increases the lengths of the acoustic tubes three fold. It also increases the tube count from three to four and the crossover from a three-way to a four-way. Then finally, the driver matching has also been optimized. It appears Aful has gone beyond simply increasing the driver count and has taken the time and effort to also fine tune and further, re-engineer practically every other aspect of the Performer 8. But the question is, do those changes actually translate into quantifiable improvements?



The sound signature of the performer 8 is what I would consider to be basically neutral. With the bass having a more subtle presentation, relaxed upper mids and good treble energy. There is also excellent extension in both directions so we have nice amounts of sub bass and upper treble presence.

The bass and mid bass quantity is what I would consider to be more relaxed, and while the dynamic driver delivers nice amounts of slam, impact, and even gives you a nice visceral sensation, my guess is their intentions were more focused on bass accuracy and refinement and less focused on “fun”. They also apparently paid very close attention to the transition out of the lower mids into the mid bass around 200 hz because while the bass presentation is what I would consider to be on the relaxed side, it’s generally, quite controlled, clean and refined. The Performer 8 also has excellent mid bass, lower mid range texture and detail for this price range.


The Performer 8 takes a slightly more unique approach to its upper mid-range tuning, similar to what you might hear with the Dunu SA6 series. This approach deviates from the more common, mid forward Harman style signature and gives instruments and vocals a more relaxed presentation. And while instruments and vocals might be slightly less forward in the overall mix, they still maintain adequate energy and offer an even richer, fuller presentation, not typically found in a Harman style tuning. Vocals and instruments also sound very natural, have good texture and seem to resolve adequately.

The treble is unquestionably my favorite aspect of the Performer 8. Because of the approach they took with the rest of the tuning, the treble has very good energy without sounding harsh or peaky. Cymbals and hi hats sound natural and have very good detail and seem to be controlled so, again, they’re not harsh, peaky or overly splashy sounding. There is also very good overall treble detail, and good upper treble presence past 10k giving you more than enough sparkle and air.


The technical performance of the Performer 8 is good for its price. The soundstage is very wide for an IEM. Instrument imaging is reasonably focused although It's not the best I've heard at this price. Instrument and vocal placement is accurate. Detail retrieval is also excellent and is among the best I’ve heard in this price range.



Moondrop Blessing 3 ($319)
The Performer 8 is slightly more balanced and doesn’t have the upper mid and treble forwardness that is present with the blessing 3. Instruments and vocals also sound more natural IMO. But beyond that, the Performer 8 is simply a step up in terms of overall performance. So in terms of both tuning and technical performance I feel the Performer 8 could be considered a direct upgrade from the Blessing 3.


Softears Studio 4 ($449)
The Studio 4 does offer slightly increased performance over the performer 8 and is what I would consider to be the IEM to beat at the $500 price point. The Studio 4 offers a refined, more balanced tuning, and better technical performance in my opinion. Bottom line, the Studio 4 is what I would consider to be the direct upgrade from the Performer 8. That being said, the Performer 8 only cost $369, not $450, so it's an automatic win at this price. For $80 less you can get very close to the performance levels of the Studio 4.

The Performer 8 is yet another solid offering from Aful and, based on the IEM’s I’ve owned or listened to, it’s the IEM to beat at the $400 price point. While this price point may represent a sparsely occupied territory in the IEM market, its impact cannot be overstated. The reality is, companies like Aful are making what used to be unattainable, attainable.


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Previously known as Hddad70
Review of the Moondrop Spring Tips
Pros: Excellent Fit and Comfort
Cons: Below average Isolation
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Moondrop Spring Tips Review (and tip guide sorta?)

I lost time this weekend. Like any good hobby, this one gives you so many things to obsess over; iems, sources, cables………….ear tips. Yes, the little rubber, dome-shaped thingys with a hole through them. This isn’t my first time going down the ear tip rabbit hole but hopefully will be my last at least for a while. This hobby has a way of luring its unsuspecting victims into its time-sucking earhole vortex only for them to emerge to a flooded backyard (I forgot to turn the sprinklers off) and an angry spouse…….I digress. I don’t expect this will generate much interest as talking about ear tips is about as exciting as sitting in traffic. That being said, I couldn’t help but notice the buzz around the Moondrop Chu and its included Spring tips so I had to see what the fuss was all about for myself. And while the reception of the Spring tips has been mixed, the Chu is quickly gaining the reputation as being one of the best iems in its price range.

The Spring tips are $13 if you purchase them by themselves so it only made sense to spend the extra $7 and get the Chu too. Initially, I just wanted to see how they stacked up against some of the other tips and leave it at that. Someone had commented on one of my posts that their iems would lose a substantial amount of bass when paired with the Spring tips making them unusable. While others claimed they were great and even rivaled some of their favorite tips. This dramatic dissimilarity in opinions piqued my curiosity prompting me to dig a little deeper.

This is just my opinion. Obviously, how I perceive the sound of an ear tip may be different from the way others perceive it. I don’t have any testing equipment and I am not an ear tip expert. I’m just very curious and want to help others by sharing my experience.

I have way too many tips and iem combinations to try and cover everything so I’m only going to concentrate on the Spring tips themselves. I will be comparing the Spring tips only to other silicone tips and will be limiting comparisons to my top five. My focus will be on the sound and versatility of the Spring tips. However, I will also rate fit, isolation, and comfort.



My Top Five (most used) Ear Tips in no particular order are:
- Acoustune AET07 and AET08
- AZLA SednaEarfit Xelastec
- Final Audio Type “E”
- SpinFit
- Moondrop Spring Tips

- Moondrop Variation - Nuetral
- Moondrop Blessing 2 - Neutral
- Moondrop Blessing 2 Dusk - Harmen Neutral
- Moondrop Chu - Neutral
- Dunu SA6 - Neutral/Warm
- UM Mest MK2 - Neutral/Warm
- Thieaudio Monarch MK2 - Neutral/Warm
- Campfire Andromeda 2020 - Neutral/Warm
Fiio FH7 - V-Shaped

Bored to death - Blink 182
I’m bored - Iggy Pop
Wake me up - Wham
I go to sleep - The Pretenders
Goodbye, goodnight - Andra Day
Aja - Stelly Dan
Why can't we live together - Dr. Lonnie Smith
Litmus test - Gabriel Mark Hasselbach
Trapezoid - Lettuce
Two suns - Tor
Loop theory - Tor
Kora - Cornelius Remix - GoGo Penguin
Atomised - Machinedrum Remix - GoGo Penguin
Innocence - Hoff Ensemble - Polarity - An Acoustic Project
Dance - Tingvall Trio
Sunlit Sea - Brian Simpson
Montana Skies - Brian Culbertson



Comfort and fit are important especially if you use iems for long durations. And for me, it doesn’t matter how good they sound if they aren’t secure or cause ear pain. There is nothing more frustrating than being on a walk or stuck behind drums and constantly having to adjust your in-ears because of improper fit or ear pain. Of course, ear tips aren’t always to blame. Poorly shaped shells or overly wide nozzles can also cause discomfort and contribute to poor fit regardless of the ear tips.

The Moondrop Spring tips run small. Moondrop just announced the XL version of the Spring tips however they will probably closely resemble your average large. When comparing the large Spring tips to the large Acoustune AET07 and AET08, AZLA SednaEarfit Xelastec, Final Audio Type “E” and Spinfits the Spring tips were slightly smaller. I typically have to use large ear tips to get a proper seal so I thought that might be a deal breaker. But when I inserted the Spring tips all the way in, I was able to achieve a proper, stable fit and seal with all of my iems.

The domes of the Spring tips are constructed of very soft silicone and have a slightly sticky texture,
similar to the Xelastecs but less sticky. No doubt the slightly sticky texture helps to keep them secure. The Moondrop Spring tips fit my ears great during long sessions at home or on stage. Because of the high-quality soft silicone, the comfort is excellent and ranks the best of all of my ear tips.

Ranking for Comfort and Fit
#1 Spring tips
#2 Final “E”
#3 Xelastec
#4 Spinfit
#5 Acoustune



No seal, no bass…… know seal, know bass. Okay, that was dumb but you get the idea. Achieving a proper seal is imperative to achieving the best sound possible. Even the slightest opening will dramatically reduce bass. I can’t tell you how many times someone told me (usually on stage) that they don't have any bass in their iems only to find out they didn’t have a proper seal. Isolation or lack thereof can make a huge difference in the quality of your listening experience. Whether on a plane, train, or just at home trying to find a little tranquility. The ability of an iem or ear tip to block outside noise can be the difference between total escape or totally irritated.

The Moondrop Spring tips offer below-average isolation likely due to the very soft silicone used for the dome. And while I was able to achieve a perfect seal, the thinner than average silicone dome allowed noticeable noise bleed. Not a problem in my home listening environment but not great for stage use especially for acoustic drums. Also, if you're traveling or in a noisy environment, these may not provide you with your desired isolation level.

Ranking for Isolation
#1 Acoustune
#2 Spinfit
#3 Final “E”
#4 Xelastec
#5 Spring tips



This was the focus of most of my testing. The Moondrop Spring tips are designed with an acoustic waveguide structure that Moondrop claims to reduce the resonance of the mid-treble frequencies while maintaining good treble presence and extension. The Spring tips borehole has a double radius support system that reduces the likelihood of collapse ensuring free flow of sound. The boreholes of the Spring tips are the largest of the five tips I tested. Resulting in increased treble and upper mid presence. The bass is also reduced as a result of the soft silicone dome structure. These factors seem to be the primary source of contention surrounding the Spring tips and are also what aroused my curiosity. So, how severe is the bass reduction? And do the increased high frequencies result in an unbalanced presentation? The short answer is……..well, there is no short answer. But I’ve been typing for a really long time and my eyeballs hurt so I’m going to try and give the shortest long answer possible. And while the answer may be long it’s not complicated.

As always with any audio-related product, it comes down to preference. The spring tips are no different than any other in that you must take into consideration your sound preference, the tuning of your IEM, and your music library.

My music library is eclectic but most of my personal listening time is dominated by Jazz, Electronic, and classic rock.

My sound preference is neutral to warm, with a proclivity to warm. So I prefer a slightly more mid-bass and bass-focused sound. If it’s too warm, the highs and mids can be overwhelmed resulting in an overly smoothed or dark presentation. As importantly, It can also reduce an iems technical capabilities. I prefer both warmth, and high technical capabilities. However, if one has to be sacrificed it would be technicalities. Most of my collection meets both of those requirements so thankfully I don’t have to sacrifice either.

Sometimes my sound preference changes. No, I don't always necessarily want to listen to the same tuning over and over again. And my iem collection reflects that. Hence the FH7 and Campfire Andromeda.

In regards to my iem collection, most of my IEMs fall into the “neutral” or “warm-neutral” category. And depending on what genre I’m listening to I will choose an iem and tip accordingly. If I’m listening to music with a bass dominant mix like electronic or pop, I may choose a tip with a wider bore and softer dome that tones the bass down. And vice-versa, if I’m listening to music that might be lacking in bass like classic rock or jazz I may choose a tip with a narrower bore and stiffer dome that increase bass presence.

Okay, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. My two primary questions are: Does the soft rubber dome and large boreholes result in an overly thinned bass, treble-heavy presentation? And: Are the Spring tips versatile? Obviously, the former dictates the latter. Again, It depends on your sound preference, IEMs, and music library. For me, the Spring tips while not being in my top 3 still work well enough with my music library and iems to justify having them in my regular tip rotation. For my preferences, the Spring tips sounded best on the Monarch MK2, Mest MK2, Dusk, Variation and SA6. And as for stage use, They work fine if I’m using any of the aforementioned iems on an electric drum kit. However, they don't isolate well enough to be used on an acoustic kit, and even on an electric kit aren't my first choice.

Ranking for Sound and Versatility
#1 Acoustune AET07 and AET08
#2 Spinfit
#3 Final “E”
#4 Tie between Spring tips and Xelastec

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To some, tip selection may barely factor into the equation but for others, it is no less important than any other component. For me it's important. And based on the size of some of my fellow audio enthusiast ear tip collections it’s important to them as well. The bottom line is the Spring tips are good and while they may not be my first choice they still made my top five which is well……good! Now, go check your backyard.


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Nice review. I’ve also been trying the Spring tips which came with the chu. The thin silicone is kind of sticky making getting a good seal and achieving desired insertion depth a bit tricky (both definitely affect bass in particular if they aren’t right). I did find them a nice match with chu and they also go well on the quarks
Thanks man!
Moondrop spring are my best tips for Sony XBA-N3. I also have spinfit, final E, radius deep mount, azla sednaearfit light, sony comfort, and some others. Spring give me best deep insertion, comfort, isolation and sound detail. The detail/ clarity really differs to other tips. Spinfit and Azla came second best, but still useless without the details. For Sony XBA-N3, the spring do not tame the bass too much. Just a smidge.


Previously known as Hddad70
Review of the Kinera 2.0 Flagship
Pros: Beautifully Smooth Treble
Organic Presentation
Wide Soundstage and Excellent Imaging
Beautiful Design
Cons: Cable

Review of the Kinera 2.0 Flagship
(Images captured with S21 Ultra in Pro Mode)

The Nanna 2.0 is Kineras latest revision to its well-received Kinera Nanna 1.0. Originally priced at $899, the Nanna 2.0 offers a tribrid configuration consisting of one 7mm dynamic driver for bass, one Sonion balanced armature for mids, and two Sonion electrostatic tweeters for highs. From what I understand there were two releases of the Nanna 2.0. Kineras initial release was the “Flagship” Nanna 2.0 and is paired with the same cable (pure copper with 3.5 termination) and accessories as the Nanna 1.0. The differences are refined tuning and new faceplate art. Then, Kinera released a newer ‘’Imperial’’ or ‘’Pro’’ version of the Nanna 2.0 ($949) that comes with an upgraded cable (silver-plated copper with 4.4 termination) and more accessories but the driver configuration and tuning remain the same. The unit that I purchased is the “Flagship” Nanna 2.0.



- Four Driver Hybrid Setup, including one 7mm Dynamic Driver, one Balanced Armature Driver - and two Electrostatic Drivers.
-Sensitivity: 110dB at 1mW
-Frequency Response: 5Hz-50kHz
-Connector : 3.5mm/ 6.35mm
-Frequency response range: 5-50KHz
-Distortion: <0.8%
-Impedance: 60Ω
-Cable Length: 1.2m
-Detachable 2 Pin 0.78mm Connector Copper Wire


Test Tracks

Goodbye, goodnight - Andra Day
Why can't we live together - Dr. Lonnie Smith
Litmus test - Gabriel Mark Hasselbach
Two suns - Tor
Loop theory - Tor
Kora - Cornelius Remix - GoGo Penguin
Atomised - Machinedrum Remix - GoGo Penguin
Innocence - Hoff Ensemble - Polarity - An Acoustic Project
Dance - Tingvall Trio
Sunlit Sea - Brian Simpson
Montana Skies - Brian Culbertson


iBasso DX220 with AMP1, AMP8, and AMP9
ifi Diablo
ifi Zen DAC
ifi Zen Blue
Lotoo PAW S1
S21 with Samsung USB adapter


Design, Build and Fit

The multicolored faceplate of the Nanna is absolutely gorgeous having a top-tier look while not appearing flagrant or showy. The build quality of the housing is also excellent. The cable is adequate but I wish it was better. I don't like the clear plastic chin slider. It looks cheap and doesn't stay in place. I also wish they would've included a 4.4mm adapter. They do, however, offer a good selection of tips. The nozzle on the Nanna is on the larger side but I experienced no discomfort during long listening sessions. I also used the Nanna for two separate 3-hour band practices and had no discomfort. I achieved the best fit and isolation using the supplied Final tips.



The sound signature of the Nanna 2.0 is warm neutral. While there is plenty of treble presence above 10k the overall treble presentation is very relaxed. There is a notable upper-midrange presence between 2.5k and 1.5k tokening female vocals and higher stringed instruments. There is a significant elevation that starts in the lower mids and continues throughout the rest of the bass frequencies giving the Nanna 2.0 an overall warm presentation. The result is a very smooth, organic listening experience. Coherency between the three different types of drivers is excellent, among the best I’ve heard.


The Nanna has excellent treble extension and while on the relaxed side I wouldn't call it dark. Live recordings have ample amounts of air and atmosphere. Symbols sound natural, never sounding harsh or piercing. Detail retrieval is excellent, revealing the most subtle details in symbols and higher stringed instruments. Hi-hats have realistic sizzle and stick attack on drums sound woody and natural. The Nanna 2.0 manages to maintain a very good treble presence without ever sounding harsh or sibilant. The treble of the Nanna 2.0 is buttery smooth. It’s simply beautiful.


The mids are right where I like them, not too forward, not too recessed. Instruments sound very detailed and natural with good presence and physicality. The lower mids are elevated giving male vocals plenty of body and thickness. As a drummer, I obsess over accurate representation of drum tones. Deep tuned snares, toms, and floor toms sound natural, having very good tactility and realism.


There is no perceivable bass-bleed into the mids. I love the Nannas warm, full-bodied sound signature and while the low mids and bass are elevated, instruments that fall within those frequencies never sound muddy or lacking in detail. The bass and sub-bass are elevated but tastefully so. The 7mm dynamic driver has very good texture and layering while also delivering excellent slam and punch.



Soundstage and Imaging

The soundstage and imaging of the Nanna 2.0 are excellent. It has a wide 3D presentation that immerses the listener within the sound field. The three most holographic IEMs I’ve ever listened to are the Empire Ears Odin, 2020 CA Andromeda, and the Noble Sultan and while I wouldn’t say it’s as immersive as the Odin or Sultan, I would say it approaches, maybe even rivals, the 2020 Andromeda but with even greater instrument and vocal density. Instrument separation, layering, and imaging are excellent with each instrument having its own defined space within the sound field.


Mest MK1 Comparison

While doing a side by side with the Mest MK1, I noticed the Nanna fell behind in terms of technicalities. The Mest has better detail retrieval, layering and is more resolving. However, I find the overall presentation and tuning of the Nanna to better suit my preference in terms of pure listening enjoyment. And while I wish the Nanna was more resolving I find that its presentation is more substantial and adds more weight to notes giving instruments and vocals increased density and physicality. Definitely not the result I expected.


Power Requirements and Pairing

The Nanna 2.0 loves power. My DX220 with the AMP1 module and iFi Diablo powered the Nanna easily with plenty to spare. However, with my DX220, when I switched to the AMP9 module (tube amps) I found myself having to push the volume up quite a bit more even with the AMP9’s output set to high. However, I still had adequate headroom when I reached my desired listening level. The ZEN DAC and PAW S1 also had no problem powering the Nanna. As expected the Samsung USB adapter and S21 struggled to push the Nanna. I was barely able to achieve listenable volume levels. My favorite pairings were with the DX220/AMP9 and the ifi Diablo. The DX220/AMP9 provided a very organic listening experience while the Diablo was less warm and more detailed.



With reviews ranging from ''my favorite IEM ever’’ to “tuning barely worthy of its price’’ it was difficult knowing what to expect from the Nanna 2.0. But honestly, the “unknown’’ factor is what makes these kinds of reviews so much more interesting. In these circumstances, I set my hopes high and expectations low by default. Thankfully, the Nanna 2.0 confirmed my hopes and dramatically exceeded my expectations. Interestingly, some of the negative reviews were coming from reviewers I follow quite closely and generally align with. Regardless, my experience with the Nanna 2.0 only serves to confirm that we all hear and process sound differently. So far, my experience with the Nanna 2.0 has been nothing short of impressive. Its buttery smooth highs, warm mids, and impactful bass keep me coming back for more time and time again. And while I'm not prepared to declare it the best in it's price range, I can easily say it's capable of holding its own among the best in the $1,000 price range.


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FYI Nanna 2.0 cable came with a 4.4 balanced connector installed, with 2.5 and 3.5 adapters in the box. If yours didn’t come eith 4.4 you should contact the dealer.

I think the cable is very good, I prefer the heavier cable that came with my DUNU SA6 but a lot of people complain about that one so it’s personal preference.


Previously known as Hddad70
Review Of the DUNU ZEN
Pros: Highly Engaging
Clean Transients And Good Dynamics
Detailed Mids and Bass
Innovative Design
Excellent Cable
Cons: Treble Roll Off
Upper Mids Peak
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In December of 2020, DUNU announced they would be releasing the ZEN, a brand new single DD IEM that would be implementing similar driver fabrication techniques derived from the LUNA but for less than half the price. No doubt the LUNA is a technical beast but $1,700 is a little out of reach for many buyers. With the introduction of the ZEN, DUNU showcases its latest ECLIPSE Driver Platform and its newly developed dynamic driver made of magnesium-aluminum alloy with a diaphragm with a nanoporous-amorphous diamond-like carbon coating. Priced at $699, this new more affordable DD IEM is a welcome addition to DUNU's already impressive line-up.

DUNU sent me the ZEN for review in exchange for my honest thoughts. I do not get compensated in any way. Shoutout to Tom at DUNU for his time and for providing me this opportunity.

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Driver Config: DD with Magnesium alloy pure metal diaphragm



Frequency Response Range:5-40000Hz


Hard case

Woven protective IEM pouch (Brown)

Assortment of S/M/L ear tips

Shirt clip

Cleaning tool

Cleaning cloth


Cable: 8 Core OCC Silver-Plated Cable

Connector: MMCX

Plug Connector: Patented DUNU Quick-Switch Modular Plug System

Included Plug Termination(s): 4.4 mm TRRS Balanced, 3.5 mm TRS Single-Ended, 2.5 mm TRRS Balanced


No doubt, 2020 has been a challenge for all of us. But for me, 2021 is turning out to be even a little more challenging. With my parents in their twilight years and the prospect of being an empty nester, life could look very different for my wife and me very soon. These new worries combined with preexisting old worries have me seeking out moments of solace more than usual and being more intentional about how I spend those moments. That includes my listening time. My parents and my children have now become my priority so it leaves very little time for critical listening. And what little time I do have is used for emotional/spiritual listening or learning music. Subsequently, a review that would normally take me only a few weeks is now taking a couple of months or more. I’ve even had to temporarily take a step back from my YouTube channel. I will continue to do videos just not as frequently.

I’ve always felt like I’ve been able to stay pretty objective when reviewing audio products. But something I became aware of during various stages of my life was that as I got older the way I listened to music slowly changed. Life changes, experiences, hardship, loss and the good things too I’m sure are all reasons for this. But the times that seem like the most change occurred were the times of major loss or hardship. When my brother passed away in 2009 I lost interest in music and audio almost completely. For nearly 3 years I went through a type of musical depression mostly only listening to music to learn drum parts. Up to that point, music was everything to me and because of loss it suddenly meant almost nothing. It sucked. It was a long road back but eventually, I rediscovered my passion for music and with it a newfound passion for portable audio. But something had changed. Maybe it’s different for everybody but for me, it seems like with every major life event/change whether good or bad I find myself increasingly becoming more of an emotional listener. Of course, this was only one of many life events/changes where I experienced a type of listening metamorphosis. But these most recent events seem to have affected me the most.

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After several weeks of dealing with stuff, my wife and I thought it would be good to get away with the family for a few days. We found a cabin nestled in the woods of Fort Bragg, Ca. just a few miles from the beautiful rocky beaches of Northern California. Of course, the priority was family but I did take some time alone for some therapeutic listening. The cabin was quiet and secluded, just what we needed. The seating area on the front porch was very quaint and looked out into a dense forest. The only things I could hear were birds and the wind blowing through the trees. It was sublime. The mornings were a little chili but still nice so with coffee in hand, DUNU ZEN’s, DX-160, Plenue II MK2, and Lotoo Paw S1 I would begin listening.

I’ve spent a lot of time with the ZEN’s over the past couple of months but my time with them at the cabin was the most memorable. My first few weeks of testing were primarily focused on technical capabilities, tuning, and overall performance but the listening sessions at the cabin were not that at all. These sessions were for one purpose only, a time of reflection desperately needed emotional reprieve. Maybe it was a coincidence….maybe it wasn't. One thing I do know is that the timing of the arrival of the DUNU ZEN could not have been better.


Test Tracks

David Benoit - Morning Sojourn
Yellowjackets - Memoirs, My Old School, Dewey (For Miles)
Doug MacLeod - Break The Chain
Chris Jones - No Sanctuary Here
Grace Jones - Hurricane Dub
Jacob Collier - In My Room
Jazz At The Pawnshop - Lady Be Good
Hans Theesink - Missing You
Vaun - Listen
Sting, Live In Berlin - Fields Of Gold
Stevie Ray Vaughan - Little Wing
Dave Brubeck - Take Five
Chet Baker - Travlin’ Light
Choir Of Young Believers - Hollow Talk
Tingvall Trio - Dance

Build and Design

The housing of the ZEN is made from stainless steel and has a gloss black (actually more of a dark gunmetal gray) finish. When I first unboxed the ZEN I was immediately struck by its elegant design. It has a very premium look and feel but can be a fingerprint magnet. It also has good weight in the hand but not so heavy as to cause discomfort in the ears. The design of the ZEN is gorgeous and stays true to DUNU's signature circular shell shape. Of course, the build quality of the cable is exceptional and is class-leading in my opinion.

Comfort and Fit

The comfort and fit of the ZEN are excellent. I had no issues with discomfort or fit during long listening sessions. Its round shell sits very comfortably in my ears and the nozzle length is just right to achieve proper insertion depth and good isolation.


Overall Sound Signature

The overall sound signature of the ZEN is balanced U-shaped. There is an 8-9k peak that can sometimes cause the treble to sound uneven in certain recordings. The upper mids are more forward while the lower mids have a warm presentation. The bass is elevated but still balanced overall. Of course, because this is a single dynamic driver none of the issues you typically have with BA, hybrid, or tribrid configurations like poor coherency or BA timbre are present. If I had to choose one defining attribute that stands out to me the most It would be the ZEN’s ability to engage the listener. Probably due to the physicality and weight the dynamic driver gives to notes usually not present in BA IEMs. From the very first note, the ZEN drew me in taking almost no time for me to get lost in the music. There are very few IEMs that I’ve listened to that upon first listen could almost immediately engage me.


The treble of the ZEN has somewhat of a relaxed, non-fatiguing presentation due to the treble roll-off after 8-9k. While the amount of roll-off is enough to cause live recordings to lack air there is still enough upper treble presence to give a sense of openness and atmosphere. There is an 8-9k peak that can cause some recordings to be borderline shouty. Fortunately, this problem can be corrected almost completely by simply changing to foam tips. Despite the treble's laid-back presentation, there is still enough energy to satisfy and I do feel that it compliments the rest of the frequency presentation quite well. Cymbals have good texture and decay never sounding unnatural or lacking energy. Hi-hats have good sizzle and detail but can sound somewhat dark on certain recordings. The soundstage width of the ZEN is average bordering on intimate however it has above average depth. Imaging is pinpoint accurate giving vocals and instruments their own defined space within the soundstage.


The upper mids of the ZEN are slightly more forward giving higher male vocals, pianos, guitars, and horns an intimate presentation. However, there is still enough distance to give an appropriate sense of space between the listener and the vocals and instruments. Not too close, not too far away, just right. Female vocals and some higher stringed instruments have a slightly more forward presentation but still appropriate, never sounding claustrophobic or overly intimate. The stick attack on toms and snares is excellent as is the hammer attack on kick drums. Moving further into the mids, there is a slight dip and then they began to elevate again in the lower mids giving a sense of warmth to lower-mid notes. Lower male vocals, some cello notes, toms, floor toms, and some deeper tuned snares sound full-bodied and have good weight. Instrument separation, layering, and texture in the mids are excellent and are among some of the best I’ve heard.


This is without a doubt my favorite part of the tuning of the ZEN. With bass reproduction, typically there are trade-offs with your average dynamic driver. While dynamic drivers can have excellent slam, dynamics, realistic weight, and punch, well-tuned balanced armature drivers can deliver more speed and definition and generally can sound more accurate. However, this is not your average dynamic driver. The ZEN seemingly defies the laws of physics and gives you the best of both worlds. The ZENs 13.5mm ECLIPSE driver not only delivers slam, dynamics, weight, and punch it also supplies an ample amount of definition, texture, and layering. While not the best bass I’ve heard it is undoubtedly among the best giving it a massive advantage over many other dynamic driver IEMs in its price range. Which leads us to……..


The DUNU LUNA is well known for being one the most technically capable dynamic driver IEMs available and when DUNU announced they would be implementing similar driver fabrication techniques in the ZEN, consumer’s expectations were high. Of course, at less than half the price I don't think there was the expectation of the ZEN to be technically equal to the LUNA but at least better than most dynamic driver IEMs in that price range.

“There aren’t many products that can deliver on dynamics and speed simultaneously. With conventional diaphragms or even coated diaphragms, increasing dynamic performance comes at the cost of speed. And conversely, if a driver is made to have clean transients then dynamics are sacrificed. The ZEN shows these two attributes are not mutually exclusive.”

- Andy Zhao, DUNU Chief Engineer

So does the ZEN deliver both clean transients and dynamics? Yes. Especially in the mids and bass. As matter of fact, the ZEN produces some of the most technical mids and bass I’ve ever heard in a dynamic driver IEM in this price range. The technicalities of the treble are not quite up to the level of the mids and bass however, it is still good. And while the ZEN is not as technically capable as the LUNA it is very close. It’s only a small step down in my opinion. Which again, is quite impressive for $699. I also prefer the tuning of the ZEN over the LUNA.


SA6 Comparison

While these have two completely different driver designs I feel they are close enough in price to warrant comparison. The SA6 has a more balanced frequency response than the ZEN and is generally closer to my personal tuning preference. The SA6 also has more treble presence delivering more air, sparkle, and high-frequency detail. I also find the SA6 slightly more comfortable. Where the ZEN bests the SA6, in my opinion, is in its ability to engage the listener. The ZEN delivers much greater impact, giving notes a sense of physicality and weight. Something most BA driver IEMs could never do. And again, while I do prefer the overall tuning of the SA6 I find the ZEN to be more captivating and during these last couple of months, I’ve found myself reaching for the ZEN over the SA6 and I think I know why.


The ZEN showed up at my doorstep at a very strange time in my life. Just one day before I had received news that would likely change my life forever. And not in a good way. I remember sitting on the couch staring at the unopened package feeling kind of numb thinking there was no way I could review these. Honestly, in those moments I couldn’t have cared less about this stuff. I knew I wouldn’t be able to give the ZEN the time and effort it deserved. I had already decided to take a big step back from my review channel and even if I decided to do written reviews they would take way too long. I emailed Tom at Dunu and asked what I should do fully expecting him to have me send them back. Tom, of course, being the patient person that he is, told me to hold onto them and take my time. Tom, you are awesome. Thank you. So, there I sat, sad and frustrated. I wasn’t sure what to do so I just set the ZEN’s aside for the time being.

Over the next several days, I didn’t listen to music at all focusing on the challenges at hand and trying just to stay emotionally afloat. About a week later I finally sat down for a first, quick listening session with the ZEN. I was feeling sentimental and thought I would get back to my roots. There was a specific song I had in mind. It was off of the album “Like A River'' by the Yellowjackets. It was track number 5 “Memoirs” at about 1:39, Russell Ferrante began the piano solo that would literally be the beginning of my Jazz journey almost thirty years ago. This was the solo that made me fall in love with Jazz. I had heard this solo hundreds of times throughout my life but this night was different. No doubt, it was probably just my emotional state but this time it was almost as though I was hearing it for the first time.

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Two weeks later on a crisp Northern California morning, I had just sat down on the front porch of our little rental cabin looking out into the forest. My 2020 CA Solaris had arrived just a couple of days before and I had only spent a short time with them so I thought this would be a good time to try them out. It was perfect. I had just taken a few sips of my coffee when I remembered that night two weeks before. I grabbed my Plenue 2 MKII and frantically began searching for “Memoirs”. I plugged in my Solaris and began to listen. In all honesty, I was a little underwhelmed, at least at that moment. Not that they didn’t sound good, they just didn’t impact me the way the ZEN had. Just to clarify, I had no intention of doing any sort of comparisons at the cabin. I honestly, wasn’t really interested in anything other than just enjoying the music and clearing my head. But the Solaris just wasn’t doing it for me. I then grabbed my Monarch’s……...then the SA6’s. Still, all very good but they didn’t engage me the way the ZEN had. Which is crazy because these are some pretty incredible IEMs and are much closer to my tuning preference. I absolutely love the SA6 and the Monarch and suddenly I felt like they were kind of letting me down. So of course I then proceeded to finish out the rest of my listening with the ZEN.

I have to acknowledge the ZEN’s shortcomings. It’s lacking air and the upper mids are a little too elevated. I also wish it had just a little more sub-bass presence. That’s the reviewer side of me. Here is my human side. As I said before, the ZEN arrived at my doorstep at a very strange time in my life. It could have shown up any other time but it didn’t. Maybe it was a coincidence….maybe it wasn’t. All I know is that during these last several weeks I’ve needed music more than ever. And I’m sure if the ZEN had never arrived the SA6, Monarch, Solaris or Andromeda would have sufficed. But the ZEN did arrive and subsequently ended up being the IEM that I reach for more than any other in my collection. It’s also the IEM that gave me some of my most memorable listening moments ever. Is the ZEN perfect? No, It has its faults. But there is something that draws me to it time and time again. And whether it’s just the physicality and weight to notes or its perfectly natural timbre, the ZEN has an ability none of my other IEMs seem to have. The ability to utterly captivate me.

Dunu ZEN video review

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Nice review! Deserve to read it, thank you.
Real life is more important than audio. Hoping your life journey is bearable and that music provides the joy you need.
Thanks a lot for this wonderful review


Previously known as Hddad70
DUNU SA6 Review
Pros: Some of the best BA bass in its price range
Superb build and design
Excellent transparency and resolution
Cons: For the price - None

"The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing"​

DUNU recently introduced their newest lineup of all multi-balanced armature in-ear monitors, The Studio Series. The SA3 was the first of the series followed by the SA6. DUNU has long been known for their hybrid-centric approach only recently delving into all BA IEM’s. Coming in at $549, The SA6 features a brand new vented dual woofer by Sonian in partnership with DUNU designed specifically for the SA6. Until the Studio series, DUNU had been exclusively using Knowles BA drivers in combination with their own in-house designed dynamic drivers. According to DUNU they envisioned the SA6 as something of a “Goldilocks” for BA only IEM’s. Is the SA6 "Just right" for you?

Before I go any further I want to thank DUNU for supplying this review unit. This unit was supplied in its full retail packaging including the retail box, IEM’s, case, and all accessories.



Driver Configuration:

Bass - [2] Sonian AcuPass Vented Dual Woofer

Mids - [2] Knowles custom Midrange driver

Treble - [2] Knowles Custom Dual Tweeter

Frequency Response: 5Hz - 40kHz
Sensitivity: 113db
Impedance: 60 ohm

Tuning Modes:

Default Signature - Switch Position 1
Atmospheric Immersion (Bass boost) - Switch Position ON


8 Core, High Purity, Monocrystalline, Silver-Plated Copper. Patented DUNU Quick-Switch Modular Plug System (4.4mm Balanced, 3.5mm Single-Ended, and 2.5mm Balanced Terminations)


Design and Build
The design and build of the DUNU SA6 are excellent. The housing is hand poured from a high-quality resin sourced in Germany and finished off with a stabilized wood faceplate unique to each housing. The faceplate color combination and design of my unit are simply stunning. The clear resin reveals the superb craftsmanship of each IEM. I couldn’t wait to do a photoshoot with these. It’s easy to photograph beautiful things. The build quality of the cable is also very good. Its design complements the IEM’s quite nicely, is supple yet robust. The 2-pin metal connectors fit securely in the sockets of the IEM’s and never feel loose or vulnerable.


Comfort and Isolation
The SA6 is small and compact and relatively light resulting in a very comfortable fit. Probably one of the more comfortable UIEM’s I’ve tested. The shape of the housing is perfect for my ear not only providing excellent comfort for long listening sessions but also providing good isolation. I got a chance to test these out on a flight from California to Pennsylvania, 12 hours both ways. There was only a slight noise bleed with the volume at medium levels. The supplied black tips provided a good, comfortable seal for the trip up but for the return trip I switched to my Sedna Earfit Exelastec tips and the isolation was slightly better.

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The overall sound signature of the SA6 with the switch in its default position is balanced with smooth treble and a slight bass bump. It has good resolution, separation, and a more intimate presentation. The transparency, clarity, and coherency of the SA6 are very good.

The woofer used in the SA6 is brand new. Developed in a new partnership between DUNU and Sonian specifically for the SA6. According to DUNU, the specially designed Sonian woofers delivered what they felt was a more visceral bass response, similar to what a dynamic driver might offer. It has an integrated AcuPass filter as an acoustic low-pass, rather than an electronic low-pass. It also has a dedicated tract for venting something not normally seen used with balanced armature bass drivers. Most manufacturers just use the volume of the shell as the back volume but DUNU modulated the back volume with volume restriction from the tract without limiting total acoustic impedance resulting in an optimized bass response without sacrificing speed. My preferred setting is with the switch in the default position.

With the switch in the default position, the bass is fast and accurate. The bass and sub-bass are quite balanced offering good extension with enough rumble to satisfy most. With the switch “ON” the bass is slightly boosted. In both positions, the bass has excellent texture and layering never bleeding into the mids.


The mids are smooth throughout the frequency range. Instruments sound natural and organic. Trumpets, pianos, and guitars have excellent timbre and tone. Female and Male voices were presented faithfully with female vocals being slightly more forward. Overall the mids are robust and evenly tuned. With the switch in the “ON” position the bass never encroached on the lower mids nor overpowered the mid presentation.

In line with the rest of the frequency range, the treble is detailed, fast, and resolving. Cymbals have excellent texture and decay. Hi-hats have good sizzle and detail with almost perfect representation never harsh or shrill. Live recordings have plenty of air and openness. Instrument placement and separation are pinpoint accurate. The presentation is intimate but never claustrophobic.


Frankly, there is almost nothing I don’t like about the SA6. My Uncle used to say the “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” It was good advice for life and it’s also good advice for IEM design. What is the main thing? Sound of course. DUNU made sure to “keep the main thing the main thing” without sacrificing design or build quality. Excellent sound, build, design, comfort, and isolation all at a very competitive price. And DUNU’s innovative approach to balanced armature bass seems to have paid off in spades. Personally, this is some of the best BA bass I’ve heard and competes at an even higher price point than what it’s offered. DUNU expressed they envisioned the SA6 to be something of a “Goldilocks” for BA only IEM’s. And that hopefully, most users would feel the same way. DUNU, I can’t speak for other users but for me, the SA6 is "just right".

YouTube Review of SA6
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Great review!


Previously known as Hddad70
Vision Ears EVE20 - Come To The Dark Side
Pros: Excellent mids
Properly implemented BA bass
Excellent coherency
Cons: Treble too laid back
Narrow soundstage

Come To The Dark Side

This is the third Vision Ears IEM I’ve had the pleasure of listening to on the Head-Fi/Vision Ears Tour. The first two being the Elysium and the VE8. With the VE8’s neutral/warm sound signature and incredible mids, it quickly became one of my favorite IEMs. The Elysium was also very good but the mids fell slightly short of my expectations given its high price. I’ve never heard so many great IEM’s in such a short period of time. Many thanks to Head-FI, Vision Ears, and @Barra for allowing me to participate.


The EVE20 is a 6 BA limited edition release that is only going to be produced through 2020 and then only available as long as they and their retailers have units in stock. The price is 1300,00 € including 19% German VAT. For customers outside the European Union it will be 1092,44 € without VAT. The Head-Fi tour kit only included the case and the iems but from what I’ve seen on the Vision Ears website the retail version comes nicely equipped with a cleaning tool, ¼” adaptor, 3 pairs of replicable wax filters, 5 pairs of Spinfit CP100’s and a Velcro cable. The black anodized, rubber-lined aluminum case looks nice and will no doubt provide adequate protection.

For testing, I used the iBasso DX160, iFi Nano iDSD Bl, and the Shanling M5S. My primary players were Tidal Hifi and Poweramp using FLAC files.


Test Tracks

Dominick Farinacci - You Don’t Know What Love Is
Repercussion Unit - It’s Rediculous
Choir Of Young Believers - Hollow Talk
Uji - Jenga
Frederic Robinson - Acrylic
Doug MacLeod - Break The Chain
Hoff Ensemble - Innocence
Chet Baker - Trav’lin’ Light
Stevie Ray Vaughan - Little Wing
Urban Love - No Woman No Cry
Yosi Horikawa - Wandering
Hans Theesink - Missing You


Design, Comfort, and Isolation

The design of the EVEV20 is very beautiful. The polished, clear resin body has an olive tented glass-like appearance while the ruby red semi-clear faceplate has an almost jewel-like brilliance. The shell is flat and triangular and is simplistic yet elegant. The fit and isolation were excellent and I experienced no discomfort nor excessive noise bleed. The black cable was unexpectedly simple but sufficient. I had no issues with tangling or microphonics.


The overall tonality is warm and rich. With good technicality, punchy bass, and natural decay, the EVE20 is engaging but is narrow in its presentation likely attributable to its lack of treble extension.


The treble is detailed but is a little too laid back for my taste and seems to be lacking air and energy. Despite the narrow soundstage, it does have good imaging and I do feel that the treble compliments the rest of the presentation quite well. Poorly represented Hi-hats and cymbals are a pet peeve of mine but that doesn’t seem to be an issue at all with the EVE20 as they sound very natural and have just enough sizzle and resolve.


Like the VE8, the EVE20 has incredible mids. While there is a noticeable dip in the lower mids it’s ever so slight and it doesn’t seem to affect the presentation at all. Male vocals sound full and textured while cellos and low tuned snares perfectly maintain their depth and girth. The mids are very detailed and have excellent timbre.


The EVE20 has very good bass, just the right amount in my opinion. The bass is punchy with very good extension. It also has excellent texture, layering, and speed. The mid-bass focus gives basses, kicks, and floor toms the punch and depth they need while not overextending into the lower mids. This is BA bass done right.


Final thoughts

My initial impressions of the EVE20 were mixed mainly due to the laid back treble and intimate soundstage. Also, maybe I should have gauged my expectations bearing in mind that the EVE20 is a sort of concept, limited release IEM. The interesting thing is when I look back over this seven-day experience I can't believe how different I felt about the EVE20 after really spending time with it. I don’t think my impressions of an IEM have ever been so dramatically changed from my first listen to my last and definitely not within a seven-day time frame. If there was an award for an IEM that could change your mind it would definitely have to go to the EVE20. I love wide soundstage and I typically don’t go for darker IEM’s but somehow, in the end, the EVE20 completely won me over. And, although it still may not be one of my favorite IEMs I will remember it as one of the most impressive.

Please check out my YouTube Channel, Audio In Reviews -


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Vision Ears
Vision Ears
Hey @Hddad70, thanks for your review!

I am happy to read that you had a good time listening.

I just want to add some detail to avoid misunderstandings:

"The EVE20 is a 6 BA limited edition release that is only going to be available through 2020 and retails for $1,300 USD."

  • The EVE20 is only built in 2020 and will be available as long as it is on stock. So there might be units sold in 2021, from us as well as by our resellers.
  • The price is 1300,00 € including 19% German VAT. For customers outside the European Union it will be 1092,44 € without VAT. There might be customs and/or local import taxes from your country though.
All the best from Cologne,

So sorry and thanks for the information. I've really enjoyed the VE tour and I'm looking forward to the next!


Previously known as Hddad70
Moondrop S8 impressions…...sort of.
Pros: Excellent detail retrieval
Wide soundstage
Good imaging
Excellent instrument separation and placement
Excellent Build quality
Cons: Stock cable
Lack of vent

My YouTube Review -

The Devil's in the details

I will be focusing on my impressions of the S8. However, I will also be doing a comparison with the FH5 in hopes of answering a larger question. Does the S8's insreased level of performance over FH5 or any similarly priced iem, justify spending an additional $450? This comparison between the Moondrop S8 and Fiio FH5 is not to determine whether one is better than the other. But merely to determine the extent of the “diminished return” imposed by the additional cost of the Moondrop S8 over the FH5.

I think we can all agree, especially if you're married with kids and on a limited budget, that there is a degree of guilt that can come with this hobby. It made me almost quit altogether. Am I an “irresponsible, reclusive, wastrel who blows money on unnecessary crap?” or “Is it an investment in my personal well-being?” These questions seemed to be part of a reoccurring conversation in my head, no doubt, brought on by the guilt I would feel after spending money on portable hifi.


I remember as a kid, growing up in a small family church in Central California, sitting on the third-row pew not far from the stage. My Uncle Charles was the pastor. The building was so small there was no need to mic the drums. My ears were subjected to the bowelless assault of raw drums my entire childhood. No processing, just pure, unadulterated wood on skins and metal. My brother's and I would sit and watch in amazement as "Brother Scott" would play. He was a jazz drummer but he could play anything.
I was so close I could hear the wood of the drumsticks as they struck the cymbals and drum heads. His throne squeaked when he would shift his weight. "Brother Havner" our guitarist sat on a metal folding chair on the opposite end of the stage. The pulpit stood stubbornly right between my ears and his amp, leaving me only with the scraps of reflected sound. David Leonard on the Hammond God, the Hammond B3. The distinct whirring sound of the Leslie words. Simply amazing. And they weren't crappy church musicians. They were good, really good. Sunday after Sunday. Year after year, I sat there. Raw sound. Raw energy. But it wasn't just the sounds and the emotions. It was more than that. It was the shared experience of music with others. It wasn’t just how the music made me feel, but how it made us all feel. I've found myself chasing after that feeling ever since. I catch glimpses at times. Like, at a Yellowjackets concert, almost 20 years ago, In Seattle.....the murmuring of the crowd. The legs of the bench sliding across the wood floors as Russell Ferrante pulled up closer to the piano. The squeaky foot pedal. The sound of the microphone stands being adjusted. The energy that filled the room. The people. The people. The people. The shared experience. I'll never forget it. It was the best small venue concert I've ever been to.


The other night I was doing a side by side comparison of the $259 FH5 and $699 S8. Obviously, there is a huge price difference. But that was the whole point of this session, to determine whether or not my listening experience with the S8 compared to the FH5, justified me spending an additional $450. Again, my goal wasn't so much to compare the sound quality as it was to compare the immersion and emotion.


I was listening to "Jazz at the Pawnshop" - "Lady, be good". It was recorded in 1976, at Jazzpuben Stampen in Stockholm, Sweden. It's one of my top five favorite recordings. When "Lady, be good" starts, the first thing you hear isn't a piano or a saxophone. It isn't an instrument at all. The first thing you hear is a room filled with people. The listener is instantly transported from their couch to the best seat in the house at one of "Jazz History's" most unforgettable nights. Next, Bengt Hallberg begins to play the intro on piano, then Egil Johansen does some accents on the cymbals. He uses different parts of his sticks and different areas of the cymbals to achieve different sounds. The tips of the sticks, close to the edge, on the surface of the cymbal, make a light delicate sound while the edge of the stick on the outside edge makes a darker sound. The cymbal accents slowly intensify as the song progresses and at the 43-second mark, Egil strikes the cymbal with a little more intensity using the tip of the stick. At about the 1-minute mark, Egil switches over to brushes. At 3.35 it sounds like a microphone is adjusted and the balance suddenly shifts to the right but is corrected after a few seconds. 3.51 Egil switches back to sticks and then back to brushes during the transition out of the xylophone solo at 7.51. A few times during the recording he probably uses the medal retractable handle on the opposite ends of the brushes (8.40) for additional symbol accents.


Sound Comparison

I listened to the FH5 first. Everything was there. Overall, even with the W sound signature, FH5 sounded quite good with slightly above average Imaging and Instrument Separation. There is a peak at about 7kHz but it rolls off fairly quickly giving it a more relaxed presentation but also resulting in some loss of detail. There is an upper-mid hump around 2kHz resulting in a more intimate vocal presentation but can cause some instruments to have an unnatural timbre. The mid-bass is clean and organic, never encroaching on the mids. The bass is fairly controlled and deep extending down to 10 Hz. I listened to the song at least eight times with the FH5 replaying various sections. One section I particularly focused on was the cymbal strike at the 43-second mark. The soundstage is not very wide. It’s intimate but it’s holographic enough to make them enjoyable. The FH5's did a fine job and are every bit worth the $259 price tag.


Then it was the S8's turn. Moondrop developed its own modified version of the Harman curve, calling it VDSF (Virtual Diffusion Sound Field) resulting in an overall smooth and easy listening experience. The treble is resolving with an abundance of air. The soundstage is wide. The imaging is excellent and the instrument placement is precise. The detail and clarity are exceptional. Although the upper-mids can, at times, come off as forward they never sound unnatural or peaky. The mids are balanced with great detail retrieval. The bass is controlled, with excellent attack, speed, good layering, and texture.


I pushed play and rested my arms on my legs, closed my eyes, and began to listen. First, the murmuring, followed by the piano then the drums. There I was, sitting in the best seat in the house. Completely immersed. Remember the cymbal accents I talked about at the beginning of the song? They were different in the S8’s. I replayed a section at the 18-second mark and another at the 43-second mark focusing on the sound of the cymbals. And it didn’t require me to listen to the song eight times before noticing it. At the 18 second mark, I could actually hear the sound of the wood from the drumsticks as it struck the cymbals. At the 43 second mark, when Egil strikes the cymbal with the tip of his stick with a little more force the S8 reveals something the FH5 does not. On the FH5, the initial strike is intense and well represented, but it overshadows the following symbol body resonance. The resonance is present but is lost quickly. The S8 presents not only the full intensity of the attack but the appropriate amount of cymbal body resonance as well. You can almost hear the thicknesses of the cymbal as the vibrations travel through its metal body. I caught myself mid-smile when I noticed it. Who would've thought these tiny little details would be the difference between a good listening experience and transcending one? But are those details worth the extra cost? Absolutely.

Okay, Let me try and sum this up. For me, proper representation of the sound of a drumstick or a cymbal is more than just a sound. Ultimately, those little details are responsible for triggering a memory that is attached to an emotional experience, that ultimately brings me joy. Because I spent the extra $450 on the S8, that joy is something I can experience any time, anywhere, and is only an arm's length away. For me, the joy is in the details.
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We're all after the first experiences of pleasure and chasing memories aren't we? Thanks for the impressions
Has anyone made a comparison between Dunu SA6 and Fearless Audio S8Z or Moondrop S8?
Which cable is that? Looks amazing!


Previously known as Hddad70
The Monoprice Monolith USB/DAC vs. Dragonfly Red, Earstudio ES100 and Fiio BRT5 Review/Comparison
Pros: Sounds as good or better than DAC's that cost much more.
Excellent value.
Cons: Buggy volume control.


As a boy growing up in a family church, learning how to operate soundboards and mics was just expected. For as long as I can remember my brothers and I have been obsessed with good music and good sound. Naturally, as I got older I started mixing myself. I eventually got a job in Pro A/V doing live audio. On a side note, If you want to get paid to mess with lots of other peoples really cool audio equipment, pursue a career in Pro A/V, but if you want to actually own your own really cool audio equipment, pursue something else, because you’ll be broke all the time. Fast forward 30 years. About 7 years ago, the church I attend transitioned from floor wedge monitors to in-ear monitors. The company I worked for sold them the system and I did all of the training and as a drummer I use the IEM system myself. As I became more experienced with IEM systems for live performance, I became more interested in IEM’s for personal use. Now, IEM’s are my preferred method of personal listening. I've owned several dacs and IEM’s over the years but had to sell everything and start over.

A couple of months ago, with a budget of a hundred bucks, I began researching budget DAC’s and eventually came across the Monolith USB DAC. Like many of you, I was torn between waiting and saving my money for a more expensive DAC like a Dragonfly Red or Cobalt or taking a risk on the Monolith USB DAC. It’s hard finding reviews on this dac so it made the decision that much more difficult. I’m writing this review to, hopefully, help make that decision a little easier for those considering buying this.

I recently had to sell my DFR and Fiio Q1 Mark II and unfortunately, I can't A/B the Monolith with those. So, my comparison will be limited. However, I do have a Earstudio ES100. Of course, the ES100 is a Bluetooth DAC and the Monolith is wired. So, this is not necessarily an “apples to apples” comparison, but it’s all I have for the time being. For me, at the time, it was a considerable option for only $40.00 more. Although, the ES100 had lots of reviews it was difficult finding comparisons with the Monolith. So, this may be of interest to those who are considering both.

One thing that caught my attention was the specs of the Monolith USB DAC. It utilizes a ESS Sabre ES9601 Headphone Amplifier and a Savitech SA9227 USB and supports PCM files up to 32-bit, 384kHz. It also supports DSD64, DSD128, and DSD256 playback. In comparison, the DFR uses the older Sabre ESS 9016. That being said, I understand that there is more than just the DAC that determines the performance. Someone that does know told me that clock accuracy, power supply design and some other things, that I can’t remember, also play an integral role in the performance.

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All of my test tracks are 24 bit flac and I’m using USB Player Pro and Poweramp Pro as my primary players on my S10 plus. I did some testing on my PC as well. I am using universal Fearless Audio S8Z’s as my primary testing iem’s and Fiio FH5’s as secondary iem’s.


Choir Of Young Believers - Hollow Talk
Hoff Ensemble - Innocence
Yosi Horikawa - Wandering
Chet Baker - Trav'lin' Light
The Eagles - Hotel California (Live)
Stevie Ray Vaughan - Little Wing
Hans Theesink - Missing You
Urban Love - No Woman No cry

Build quality

The build quality is okay, but not great. It has a plastic housing, and at first it felt fragile, but after a couple of months of use it has held up quite nicely. I’ve had no issues with seam separation or the USB connector loosening. I have a small case for it, so it’s always protected and put away when it’s not in use. I am no more careful with it than I was with my DFR. It is intact as it was since day one, with normal signs of wear. I heard somewhere, that using the plastic housing (as opposed to Dragonfly’s medal housing) was how they managed to keep the cost down.


From the beginning, I had issues with inconsistent volume levels. Although, having a volume rocker on the side seems like it would be a nice feature to include, it’s actually proven to be somewhat frustrating. The DFR has a set volume and is easy to use, just connect and go. When I connected the Monolith USB DAC, I would set the volume on the DAC to about 80-90%. From that point, I would control the volume with my phone or PC. Therein lies the problem. As I would increase the volume on my phone, when I reached about 70-80%, the volume level would increase suddenly to an almost unbearable volume. Eventually, after some fiddling, I could find my preferred volume level, but it was is a hassle. Aside from that, there are no other issues. Also, the battery drain from the Monolith is minimal on my Galaxy S10+, about the same as or less than the Dragonfly red.

General sound impressions

The Monolith USB DAC has no problem driving my S8Z’s or Fiio FH5’s. It gets very loud. When the volume level is all the way up on the Monolith, I can only turn my phone volume up to about 40-50% before it gets uncomfortably loud. I can achieve good volume control with my phone when dac level is about 60%. It has good treble. The sound is clear and detailed. It has good instrument separation. I can hear no distortion or noise.

Compared With the Dragonfly Red

Again, because I do not currently own the DFR, I can only give impressions based on memory. From what I remember, The DFR had a warmer sound signature and more bass. The Monolith seems to have better treble. The Monolith retrieves at least as much detail as the DFR. The monolith also has slightly better instrument separation and wider soundstage. The Monolith is noticeably louder than the DFR. Neither of them have any noticeable distortion or noise. Despite the mediocre build quality, I feel the Monolith is the better value. If I’m only considering sound, I would prefer the Monolith over the DFR as I prefer detail and wider soundstage over bass.

Compared With the ES100

I don't have a balanced cable so I was only able to test the 3.5mm output, although, I think the difference would be negligible. I was able to do a side by side comparison with the ES100 and Monolith. The ES100 has a warmer sound signature and has more bass than the Monolith. The notes of the ES100 seem to have a little more weight and girth than the Monolith. The ES100 has a hint more smooth, natural presence, while Monolith has greater textured mids with better separation, but seems to lack fullness of body in comparison. The Monolith’s treble is better than the ES100. The Monolith does a better job at retrieving fine details and has better instrument separation and wider soundstage. The ES100 is easier to use, and is much more convenient. I also like the Earstudio application. Both, the ES100 and Monolith get very loud. I would consider both, the ES100 and the Monolith good values. The ES100 definitely takes bluetooth sound quality up a notch with the dual AK4375a DAC, its DCT technology that transforms 16bit into 24bit and L-DAC, Aptx-HD (etc) codec compatibility. That being said, like the DFR, If I’m only considering sound, I would prefer the Monolith over the ES100 as I prefer detail and wider soundstage over bass.

Compared to Fiio BRT5

The Fiio BRT5 can be used both as a Bluetooth or a USB DAC and cost about the same as the ES100. The BTR5 uses a dual DAC ES9218P and CSR8675 and has the latest Bluetooth 5.0. It uses the XMOS XUF208 for USB. It supports 32 bit/384k and DSD256. It also supports LDAC over Bluetooth. Although most of my time was spent doing the sound comparison using the Monolith’s and the BRT5’s USB connection, I did also compare the Monoliths USB sound to the BRT5’s bluetooth sound just for good measure. I don't have a balanced cable so I couldn't test the balanced output.

Over USB

I have to say, part of me was rooting for the Monolith but in the end my objectivity won out. The Fiio BRT5 sounded better than the Monolith in almost every respect using it as a USB DAC. The BRT5 had better bass and treble extension, more sub-bass and more textured mid-bass, more detail retrieval, better instrument separation and placement, and a bigger soundstage. Although it wasn’t a massive improvement it was nevertheless substantial.

Over Bluetooth

The Monolith did fair better in this comparison. The monolith sounded slightly better overall with the USB connection compared to the BRT5’s Bluetooth connection. I compared all of the different Bluetooth codecs. LDAC sounded the best. The Monolith had better bass and treble extension, better detail retrieval, better treble, better instrument separation and placement and a bigger soundstage. Again, the improvements were only slight.

In this comparison the BRT5 is the better sounding DAC, even when considering the extra cost. It also has excellent build quality and a very useful app. If you can spend an additional $30 or $40 it is worth it, in my opinion.



The Monolith USB DAC was a surprise. Despite the below average build quality and buggy volume button, I’ve still managed to get a lot of enjoyment from this little sleeper. "Sleeper" as in, good performance with an unassuming exterior. Great treble, good overall sound signature, and good detail retrieval, all, for a great price. The Monolith USB DAC/AMP is at least worth it’s cost, and I would argue as good or better than some DAC’s that cost much more. For all of you budget bound audiophiles hesitating to pull the trigger, if you don’t mind the occasional bugs and slightly below average build quality but want good sound and portability, then wait no more.
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I don't think it's correct to use both volume controls. Input should be fixed between 80-100% and volume should be controlled with DAC. The issues faced with volume levels were most likely due to DAC struggling to adjust gain due to incorrect settings.
I gave the dac to my brother and he's going to be in Cali in a few weeks and he will have it with him. I should have a chance to mess with it some more.
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I'll update the review if I can get it to work consistently